The Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest is a realistic fiction novel set in Belle Beach, New York during World War II. The book’s main characters are Julie, age 11, Julie’s little sister, Martha age 6, and their neighbor, Bruno, age 12. The trio finds a baby abandoned on the steps of the Belle Beach Library and Julie decides to keep it as her other little sister. Julie writes “I’m the one who found her. A real, live, baby girl and I saw her first. I saw the basket… I just wanted to hold her awhile. I didn’t mean to take the baby.” (Page 3) The main objective of this story is for the trio to find the mother of the baby and reunite the baby with its family. I found this book to be special because the author writes from several perspectives. The book also depicts how families are coping with loss, and exemplifies how the characters fill gaps in one another’s lives and hearts.
Each chapter of this book is written from the perspective of a different person from the trio. As I progressed through the book, my vantage point alternated between Julie, Martha, and Bruno. This is a very engaging style of writing because the story is not filtered through the voice of only one character. Instead, there are multiple points of view, and the reader develops a broader understanding of the other characters' intentions and feelings. As we cultivate empathy for the people in the book, we understand their emotions better. This makes the book more intriguing and hooks the reader in from the first page.
“Six. I've been to six of them altogether. Six memorials on the beach. All because of the war,” (Bruno, 109). I found this book absorbing because many characters in the story are struggling with loss of family members and uncertainty about the war and its outcome hovers over the book's action. For example, the Ben-Eli family worries about their eldest son, Ben, at war in Europe, and they hope each day for a letter from the frontlines. Meanwhile, another family in the community loses their son in battle. In addition, Martha and Julie are continuing to cope with the passing of their mother, who died in childbirth. This attention to loss is intriguing because I learned from the characters’ struggles and better understood how humans confront and persist despite fear and grief.
In an effort to cope with their own loss, the characters tend to lean on each other and fill gaps in one another’s lives. For example, Mrs.Ben-Eli sometimes acts like a mother towards Martha, who explains, “Mrs. Ben-Eli said I would get my own library card! I can't wait to have my own library card!”(148). By receiving a library card, Martha is delighted to have a neighbor that cares for her and nurtures her like a real mother would. Likewise, Mrs. Ben-Eli is desperately missing her son who's fighting in the war and so she directs her mothering to Julie and Martha as substitute children. The author shows us that in challenging times, a community can come together by creating new bonds.
In conclusion, The Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest is a book that helps readers understand the difficulties of people facing loss. Empathy is an important part of our hearts and minds and helps us understand others. This characteristic is what makes all of us human, and it is used to develop a strong community. Finding the baby on the steps of the library unites these different characters, and by seeing this event through different perspectives, we as readers come to understand and appreciate each character. I recommend this book for people who either want to learn more about World War II, or who have experienced loss or grief before.
The Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest. Candlewick Press (MA), 2022. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!